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What books are you reading now?

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Posted

I'm currently reading Ovid's Metamorphoses, Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War and on Sundays Understanding Poetry by Cleanth Brooks, Jr. and Robert Penn Warren.

I went to a used bookstore today and picked up Four Plays By Aristophanes (The Clouds, The Birds, Lysistrata, The Frogs); Sophocles 1 (Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone); Hesiod's Theogony, Richard S. Caldwell; Aristotle for Everybody by Mortimer J. Adler and The Homeric Hymns, Apostolos N. Athanassakis.

This is a great small bookstore. The shelves are so full that they're leaning far past plumb (a lawsuit waiting to happen I suppose), and books are stacked chest-high in piles in front of the shelves so that if you really want something that you can barely see through the stacks, you either ask the owner for help or spend some time carefully removing and replacing books. Every now and then you hear a stack fall. Whenever anyone asks the owner where something is, he always knows where in the maze to send them. The Greeks are in stacks that also include authors like Faulkner, Eliot, Austen and Hawthorne. Nearby are poets, across the aisle are books about faith. Down at the end of the row, against the wall opposite the leaning end of the bookcase, are romances. It's an equal opportunity store! A good place to spend some time on a Saturday.

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Posted

I am about to read Cosmos by Carl Sagan. I am also reading Reaching to an Invisible God by Philip Yancey.

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I've also compiled a list of books I am reading or plan to read in the coming months:

  1. On China - Henry Kissinger
  2. State vs. Defense - Stephen Glain
  3. Mahabharata - William Buck (his retelling of the Sanskrit classic)
  4. Anti-Oedipus - Gilles Deleuze + Felix Guattari
  5. First as Tragedy, Then as Farce - Slavoj Zizek
  6. Confessions - Augustine
  7. The Bible (New Testament) - God?
  8. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable - Nassim Nicholas Taleb

It seems a very random assortment does it not? Hopefully I can finish at least a few of them and work up the courage to start the others.

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Posted (edited)

I've been reading the highly unsatisfactory history of modern music, The Rest is Noise: Listening to the 20th Century by Alex Ross.

If you don't mind reading a superficial account of the history of music told from a Cold War perspective that wouldn't have been out of place from a Barry Goldwater or a Robert McNamara, where the author treats all leftist composers with disdain verging on condescension, and omits relevant historical data in order to downplay the political beliefs of major composers, then this is exactly the book for you. For everyone else, though....

The height of the historical revisionism comes in the sections dealing with Kurt Weill and Aaron Copland. Both of them are too famous to skip over lightly or ignore entirely (as he does with figures like Henze, Dallapiccola, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Lou Harrison, Hanns Eisler, etc.), so instead he carefully sets about domesticating them. Yes, they were leftists, but they're still not the kind of people who you need have the slightest reservation about inviting into your CD player.

For Aaron Copland, he pretends as if his leftism was just a "youthful indiscretion". He maintains this fiction even when, like Shrub's "youthful indiscretions", they continue into the composer's forties. Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" was premiered when he was 43, and he never abandoned his political beliefs.

For Kurt Weill, Ross constructs the fantasy that Weill's leftism was merely the result of having fallen under the sway of the overbearing Bertolt Brecht, not because Weill had political views of his own which made him seek Brecht out as a collaborator. So naturally, out from under Brecht's sway and living in America, Ross trivializes Weill into an apolitical Broadway tunesmith. He's happy to mention the musical Knickerbocker Holiday while ignoring the political parable at the heart of the plot, and also ignoring the fact that his new collaborator, Maxwell Anderson, was an anarchist. An anarchist, incidentally, with whom Weill would later collaborate on Lost in the Stars, the adaptation of Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton's protest novel against the emerging system of apartheid. Ross neglects to mention this work even though it won the "Best Original Score" Tony at the first Tony Awards ceremony. You'd think that this would be something of a milestone and worth mentioning.

On the bright side, I've also been reading the excellent political thriller Seven Days in May by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II.

It's kind of interesting to compare their scenario with the events unfolding at around the time the novel was set, in 1974. They were remarkably prescient.

The novel was written in 1962, but even then, before the Civil Rights Act and the nomination of Robert Walker as Housing and Urban Development secretary under LBJ, the authors predicted the nomination of Black person to a Cabinet-level position (in the novel, Tom Burton, secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare).

President Frazier, Jordan Lyman's predecessor, was a one-term president thanks to the perception that he had 'lost' Iran, a view that crippled Carter's re-election campaign in 1980. In the novel, the discontent is caused by a Soviet invasion that results in the partition of Iran, and not an Islamic revolution. (It should be noted that being written in 1962, the authors assumed that Kennedy would be elected to two terms, stepping down in 1969, then the fictional Frazier takes over, and then loses the 1972 election to Lyman.)

Owing to widespread suspicion of the Soviet Union, the public reacts poorly to a tripartite agreement between the Soviet Union, China, and the US on nuclear disarmament, causing Lyman's Gallup poll numbers to fall to 29%, the lowest approval rating since Gallup started taking the poll. As it happens, in real life in 1974, Nixon had the worst approval ratings ever due to the Watergate scandal. Also, because negotiating a treaty requires opening up diplomatic relations, we can assume that Lyman did this sometime in 1973-1974, more or less at the same time that Nixon was opening up diplomatic relations with China. Also, while Nixon never did agree to total nuclear disarmament, he did participate in SALT I and signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

The parallels just keep on coming, and it's really interesting to see how this wholly fictional world inhabits a timeline that is different but not too dissimilar to the way history actually unfolded.

Edited by Nullifidian

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Right now I'm slowing reading Odysseus Unbound: The Search for Homer's Ithaca by Robert Bittlestone. This lengthy book proposes that the western peninsula of the island of Cephalonia is actually the site of ancient Ithaca, not the modern island of Ithaca just east of Cephalonia. It's interesting but slow going. Mr. Bittlestone takes into account all the theories that have been put forth from ancient times to the present, finding them all unsatisfactory. He is building his case using satellite imagery, newly translated text of Homer's Odyssey and the geology of the area. Fascinating stuff.

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Posted

Oh wait, I can put things down here again!

Programming Perl, by Larry Wall, Tom Christiansen & Jon Orwant

Mastering Regular Expressions, by Jeffrey E.F. Friedl (which after starting the Perl book I realized I had some misconceptions about the specific flavor of regular expressions)

Learning Perl, by Randal L. Schwartz, brian d foy & Tom Phoenix (going slowly through the lessons but stopping and doing my own Perl code as I go along)

I just finished Banewreaker by Jacqueline Carey, nearly bored me to death, now finishing Godslayer by same author. Really, it should have just been one book, seems to me they broke it up to make more money. All of the inserts have reviews of her _other_ books. Maybe they are good, and this is a good idea, just poorly implemented. No real character development, not enough "world" history to make it interesting, and the "bad" guys, who are the people centered in the plot, do all of the dumb things "bad" guys do in all other books! Plus I am very tired of "this is foreordained" crap.

It feels like a skeleton of a novel, no real character introspection so you feel nothing if they die, or care if they are going to die. I am not finished yet, but doesn't feel like much else is going to happen that is important. It is like she has shot but missed the point.

Anyway, I have a bunch of other books that have been sent to me that I can't wait to start on, but reading for me is slow going, especially switching gears between programming and a novel.

-Scott

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Posted

The Case For Christ by Lee Strobel

The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

And the bible.

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Oh wait, I can put things down here again!

Programming Perl, by Larry Wall, Tom Christiansen & Jon Orwant

Mastering Regular Expressions, by Jeffrey E.F. Friedl (which after starting the Perl book I realized I had some misconceptions about the specific flavor of regular expressions)

Learning Perl, by Randal L. Schwartz, brian d foy & Tom Phoenix (going slowly through the lessons but stopping and doing my own Perl code as I go along)

I used to love goofing around with perl, then I discovered php. I guess perl's still useful for non-html text crunching. I still get a thrill from crafting a succinct yet effective regexp.

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In-laws gave me Wendell Berry's 'Life is a Miracle' for Xmas. Prolly more to do with it being on my Amazon wishlist than them paying close attention to my reading habits, but I appreciate that they take the trouble to get me summat I'd actually enjoy. It's mainly a send down of E O Wilson's 'Consilience' in (as Berry sees it) its readiness to bamboozle us into thinking a certain kind of future is inevitable.

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Oh wait, I can put things down here again! Programming Perl, by Larry Wall, Tom Christiansen & Jon Orwant Mastering Regular Expressions, by Jeffrey E.F. Friedl (which after starting the Perl book I realized I had some misconceptions about the specific flavor of regular expressions) Learning Perl, by Randal L. Schwartz, brian d foy & Tom Phoenix (going slowly through the lessons but stopping and doing my own Perl code as I go along)
I used to love goofing around with perl, then I discovered php. I guess perl's still useful for non-html text crunching. I still get a thrill from crafting a succinct yet effective regexp.

Yes, I can understand the change for web pages, I have a bad feeling about PHP, lots of security issues you have to get around. You need tight code! I am using Perl as a Systems Administrator so lots of text processing, and I need to know it better just in general, along with regex.

Fun though. :)

-Scott

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I’ve been reading a lot of Czech literature lately. Right now, I’m reading The Good Soldier Švejk. It‘s beginning to grow on me, even with its faults.

The introduction to my copy intimated that Hašek’s opinions concerning the Catholic church were so over-the-top that readers would quickly tire of reading them, but what I mainly notice is that his bitterness seems to have impelled him to the heights of his ingenuity. He hardly ever uses descriptive language except when he’s lambasting the church, in which case it comes out in full force, with results such as:

“The altar was made up of three parts, liberally provided with sham gilt like the whole glory of the Holy Church.”

Yeah, it’s heavy-handed, but I just wish he could have put even a fraction of the effort he puts into describing that altar (it gets a whole page!) into describing settings, or characters. Overall, though, it’s good satire, and definitely funny, if black humor is your thing.

Also, I’ve also been reading Les Fleurs du mal. :)

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I recently read Niels Lyhne by Jens Peter Jacobsen (translated by Tiina Nunnally).

I am currently reading:

On What Matters (Volume One) by Derek Parfit;

Your Face Tomorrow: Dance and Dream by Javier Marías;

The Advancement of Science by Philip Kitcher.

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Books read this year:

Flags of Our Fathers (James Bradley)

The Turn of the Screw (Henry James)

The Mahabharata (John D. Smith translation)

War of the Worlds (H. G. Wells. About three quarters of the way through this one).

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I'm reading The Octopus by Frank Norris, and it's now starting to pick up. If Frank Norris does have one slight fault, it's that he's slow to get off the mark, especially in the first chapter where nothing really happens with respect to the central theme of the story: the fight between the farmers and the railroads. It's something I hope we can add to the LibriVox catalog someday, but so far I'm not as eager to add it as I am to add The Death of the Gods by Dmitri Merezhkovsky, Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist by Alexander Berkman, or even The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, Vol. 2, my current group project.

I have Libra and White Noise by Don DeLillo through my library's e-book borrowing system; my first experiment with this method of borrowing. I'll have to read those soon too.

And in audiobook form, I've got Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey, read by Michael Pritchard. This is the same narrator who does the Nero Wolfe mysteries by Rex Stout, but he's considerably drier when he doesn't have a character to read, so this book is a little hard to listen to. It's unfortunate because the language just cries out to be read aloud. I think someone with a greater sympathy for Abbey, like the actor Peter Coyote, would have done a much better reading.

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I am reading Nietzsche's Will to Power for the first time.

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I am reading Nietzsche's Will to Power for the first time.

The Will to Power was edited by Nietzsche's sister and Geist after Nietzsche's death. Eli had her own agenda which I consider was far from Nietzsche's intentions. This book is one of the reasons why someone so bright as Berty Russell completely failed to understand the thinker, why Nietzsche ended up with a reputation for being anti-semitic and connecting his idea of the ubermensch with Hitler's Master Race. I think a more fruitful and deeper understanding of Nietzsche can be obtained from reading both, On the Genealogy of Morality and Beyond Good and Evil.

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Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything by David Bellos

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The End of Eternity by Asimov

I also recently read No Good Deed by M.P. McDonald. I got it free through Amazon with my kindle or something. I haven't read cheap fiction in a long time, and damn, that was an addicting book. There's this guy, Mark Taylor, he's a photographer, one day he picks up a strange old camera from a street vendor in Afghanistan, when he takes a picture with it, and develops the film, the images that come out don't match what he took a picture of. It's always something tragic happening, then he has these dreams, where the image plays out in his dream, and then it actually happens. So he starts playing superhero and tries to prevent these horrible things from happening. One time he took a picture of the World Trade Center, and he tried to stop that, but nobody would believe him. His connections in Afghanistan, and the phone calls he made on 9/11 caught up to him. Eventually the government labels him an enemy combatant and he gets stuck in some solitary confinement prison where they torture him to try to extract information from him for over a year because they think he's a terrorist or some bullshit. Fun book, lol.

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I am reading Nietzsche's Will to Power for the first time.

While Soleo's right about the formatting of the Will to Power, a reason to take it seriously comes from the great philosopher, Heidegger. He put forth a reading that relied on several methodologies:

He thought Nietzsche's "philosophy proper" was in the Nachlass (partially published as Will to Power) because the doctrine of a thinker is in that which is left unsaid in what he says. The "unsaid" behind the published works justified Heidegger's focus on the Nachlass. If the texts Nietzsche published are what he said, then the Nachlass belongs to the unsaid. Also, Heidegger refers to the intended text that Nietzsche would've published, as opposed to the construction from the notebooks by Nietzsche's literary executors. Moreover, the unsaid in what a thinker says has much to do with the terms of Heidegger's related notion of the unthought. He claims that after Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche did not publish what he really thought. All his publications after Zarathustra are polemical responses to European nihilism. The unthought in Nietzsche's thinking is the same as what remains unthought in the thinking of Western history as the history of metaphysics: the Truth of Being. So, Heidegger intended to locate the thought of the Truth of Being that remained unthought in Nietzsche as the culmination of Western thinking as metaphysics.

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Posted (edited)

I'm currently reading Walter Russel Mead's God & Gold: Britain, America and the Making of the Modern World in addition to Niall Ferguson's The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World.

Both, so far, are extremely fascinating.

Edited by Meursault

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Posted

The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco.

Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller.

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The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco.

I greatly enjoyed The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum, but found Baudolino and The Island of the Day Before to be substandard. I saw this one on the shelf last time I was in the bookstore. Please let us know what you think, Michael.

As for myself, I'm nearing the end of Feyerabend's Against Method (I'm enjoying it immensely and probably will even more on subsequent readings).

A friend also recommended to me Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture (as the tale of a dying man sharing life lessons, how good a life he had and how he regrets not being there as his young family grows up, it is very easy to become emotionally invested in the story and feel moved by his upbeat attitude and demeanour. If you look at it a bit more objectively, the various life lessons aren't anything we all haven't heard previously. Ignoring the impact of his personal situation, the book rates a solid ...meh).

Depending on how heavily I become bogged down in coursework between now and July, I'm hoping to read both Guy Gavriel Kay's and Iain M. Banks' newest novels (both received for Christmas). I expect to delve into Pratchett's Discworld series as a reward this summer.

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I greatly enjoyed The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum, but found Baudolino and The Island of the Day Before to be substandard. I saw this one on the shelf last time I was in the bookstore. Please let us know what you think, Michael.

There is just no getting around it: The Name of the Rose is Eco's best. I happened to enjoy Baudolino, but I found The Island of the Day Before to be a miserable experience.

The Prague Cemetery is far more enjoyable than is The Island of the Day Before. However, what makes it enjoyable is not really the story. The story often comes across as a collection of half-hearted - forced and ultimately abandonned - contrivances meant to provide an excuse for the often humorous (even when somewhat coarse) observations and thoughts which are far too common amongst humans.

In general, the story is about the familiar human predilection for explaining misfortune in terms of a conspiratorial control effected by a behind-the-scenes self-serving few when, in fact, much of that same misfortune can often be tied to the unremitting manipulations of those who hide in plain sight as they self-servingly engage politically with the world under the guise of service to more transcendant philosophical goals and purposes.

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The Odyssey by Homer

First I read a translation by R.L. Eickhoff published in 2001 which is a mostly prose written in modern language. Now I'm reading a few other translations including Fagles, Fitzgerald, Butcher and Lang, Mandelbaum and Palmer.

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The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

I know.

I'm pretty surprised by the workmanlike quality of the writing so far. It's deft and plain without being antiseptic. Less recently I finished Sophie Littlefield's Rebirth, set in her Aftertime universe. It's ostensibly post-apocalyptic zombie fiction, but it's mostly slightly overly wordy melodrama. The first book, Aftertime, was meatier, but I suppose that's usually the case in origin stories. Sort of like with found art, it's easier to work with the debris field than with new earth.

I have Anathem waiting in the wings. I've started it, but keep putting it down because I'm distracted by several other plates I'm convinced I want to spin. It's, how you say?, a recurring theme.

I'm looking for a book that touches me in the way The Road did, that evokes desperation and melancholy. Perhaps a bit less optimistic. Anyone have recommendations?

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